On paper, Rolex’s new two-tone “Rolesor” ref. 126603 version of the still-new 43mm-wide Sea-Dweller doesn’t seem to solve any practical problems. Water resistant to over 1,200 meters and firmly placed in the Rolex “Oyster Professional” collection of sport watches, this diver’s timepiece doesn’t help anyone go deeper or read the time any easier just because it now combines Oystersteel (Rolex’s own 904L steel alloy blend) and 18k yellow gold. Watch enthusiasts responded to this particular new 2019 Rolex watch release as an “answer to a question no one asked…” Or is it?
I don’t disagree that Rolex solves no utilitarian dilemmas by creating a more “luxe” version of its middle-durability serious dive watch, which sits in between the Rolex Submariner and the Deepsea. That said, the ref. 126603 Sea-Dweller does fill an important market need for a larger, bolder Rolex diver watch with some luxury appeal. If it makes sense for there to be a Rolesor (two-tone) or all-gold Rolex Submariner, then why not a gold or partially gold Sea-Dweller? Consider the simple reality that, despite the professional-use intention of Rolex’s dive watches, only a scant few ever make it further than the depth of a kitchen sink. Rolex’s steel and gold sport watches are lifestyle choices, and a larger Rolesor dive watch is there for guys who feel a 40mm-wide Submariner is just too petite for them. Once you think about who might wear a two-tone Sea-Dweller, you immediately answer the question of the target market. We’ve all seen these guys, and we know they would gladly rock a 43mm-wide Rolex diver’s watch in gold — if only Rolex produced one. And starting in May 2019, such a watch purchase suddenly becomes an option.
I’m among those guys who would gladly rock such a watch, which is especially true given that larger-sized gold watches tend to do well because of the inherent “showy” nature of donning polished precious metal on your wrist. In other words, if you are interested in wearing a tool watch with some high-end pizazz in it, why not go big in size?
Ironically, I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the all-steel version of the 43mm-wide Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 (aBlogtoWatch hands-on here) that was released back in 2017. Positioned as a 50th-anniversary tribute to the original Sea-Dweller, the 126600 felt more or less like a larger Submariner with an automatic helium release-valve and a conspicuous piece of red text on the dial. What Rolex did do right with the 43mm-wide Sea-Dweller was create a new proportional bracelet for it — which was the mar of the previous generation Deepsea that used a too-narrow bracelet. Then, in 2018 (just a year later), Rolex released the new ref. 126660 Deepsea, which solved the bracelet problem and thoroughly upgraded the Deepsea. If anything, the next Rolex dive watch to refresh is the Submariner, at this point.
What I didn’t like about the all-steel Rolex 126600 Sea-Dweller was that it sort of bored me and didn’t offer enough product differentiation as a model that sat between the Submariner and the Deepsea. With the ref. 126603 Sea-Dweller, Rolex has breathed new purpose into a model that felt merely like a vehicle to keep the popular Sea-Dweller name alive. If I am going all steel (well, with some titanium), and I want the most serious tool watch Rolex makes, I am going to go for the Deepsea. If I want a showy Rolex sport watch (and who doesn’t, to be honest?) the Rolesor Sea-Dweller suddenly makes tons of sense. The Sea-Dweller Rolesor 126603 costs 4,500 Swiss Francs more than the 126600 for the gold but seems to fill a market need all that much better. So, while I was not into the all-steel version of the 43mm-wide Sea-Dweller, the Rolesor version suddenly has huge appeal to me. This is precisely why Rolex intentionally considers small variations on existing products as a means of filling market needs slowly each year.
The real competition within Rolex for the Sea-Dweller 126603 is the similar black-dialed Submariner Date ref. 116613LN that also has a two-tone steel and 18k yellow-gold case construction. This watch is around a decade old at this point and represents an aging platform and movement that Rolex has been carefully replacing across its entire model range. From a volume perspective, the Submariner represents much more sales than the Sea-Dweller, and it makes sense that Rolex will wait to update the Submariner after its more expensive cousin models. The two-tone Sea-Dweller also doesn’t cost that much more than the two-tone Submariner with a difference in price of 2,500 Swiss Francs. For that extra money, you get 3mm more case width, the more modern in-house caliber 3235 automatic movement, a case with an automatic helium release valve (speaking of features you’ll never use) and a slightly more modern case design along with the added boldness to the wrist presence. In other words, unless you are strictly interested in the smaller 40mm-wide size of the Submariner 116613LN, the 126603 Sea-Dweller is actually the better bet in my personal opinion, especially for the overall price.
One interesting detail about the Sea-Dweller that Rolex shared with me is that, on special order, customers can opt for the watch to have the Fliplock diver’s extension deployant clasp — intended for those who need to wear their watch over a serious wet-suit. The bracelet already has Rolex’s very well-engineered Glidelock deployant clasp micro-adjust system that will be more than enough for the vast majority of people needing extra room in their bracelet. Nevertheless, if you need an even more serious diver’s extension system, and must dive with a partially 18k gold timepiece, then your local Rolex authorized dealer has you covered.
There isn’t much else new to say about the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 because it is really just the 126600 in steel and 18k yellow gold. I do like how, on the dial, the red text is replaced with gold-toned text. I also really like how these new-generation wider bracelets look in Rolesor style with the polished center link. Gold is used for the bracelet and bezel, as well as the crown. The black ceramic bezel insert is further produced with gold-toned numerals, as opposed to white on the all-steel version.
Water resistant to 4,000 feet, the Sea-Dweller case is 43mm-wide and just over 15mm-thick. Over the dial is a sapphire crystal with Rolex’s cyclops magnifier lens over the date window. Is really does wear like a larger Submariner, and if you didn’t know what you were looking for you might mistake this watch for a Submariner if you didn’t see the circle for the automatic helium escape valve on the side of the case or the different text on the dial. Another minor difference between the watches is that the Sea-Dweller has a full scale of minute markers on the uni-directional rotating timing bezel, whereas the Submariner only has minute markers for the first 15 minutes on the round scale.
For now, Rolex is producing the Sea-Dweller 126603 exclusively with a black dial (the Submariner also has a blue-dialed version). I’d love for Rolex to come out with another two-tone Sea-Dweller in the future with other colors such as, perhaps, green. Imagine a version of the Rolesor Sea-Dweller with 18k Everose gold and a green dial and bezel — now that would be interesting.
Is right now the best time to buy a two-tone Sea-Dweller, given that Rolex is clearly upgrading its model collection and a new Submariner seems right around the corner? This year, Rolex just relaunched the Yachtmaster, which also has the 3255 movement and even includes a new 42mm-wide version. Rolex hasn’t released a new Submariner in a while, and it’s clearly due for the upgrade. If you are seeking a Submariner Rolesor and want the brand’s latest generation of products, then you might only have a few more years to wait. That said, the extra size and personality of the Sea-Dweller make it more than just a stop-gap between now and when a new Submariner comes out. Rolex also doesn’t want to irritate its customers too much by releasing products that are vastly too similar to one another in quick succession, so I imagine it will be at least two to three years from now before a new two-tone Submariner is released. Plus, as I said, the price difference between the current generation two-tone Submariner and the 2019 ref. 126603 Sea-Dweller Rolesor is not that much money in the scheme of timepiece prices.
More good news might be that this watch will likely be more available than other recent Rolex sport watches for purchase. Gold or two-tone Rolex sport watches are, almost by definition, less popular than their all-steel siblings, and potential customers will probably not have to deal with oppressive waitlists and other purchase frustrations, such as dealer price markups. I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with this Rolex timepiece on my wrist to see how I like this size for a Rolex Rolesor dive watch. Price for the 2019 Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 watch is $16,050 USD or 15,300 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Rolex website here.